Review Roundup: Jez Butterworth's THE HILLS OF CALIFORNIA

The Hills of California is playing at the Harold Pinter Theatre.

By: Feb. 09, 2024
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Review Roundup: Jez Butterworth's THE HILLS OF CALIFORNIA

Jez Butterworth’s new play, The Hills of California, just celebrated opening night!

The cast is led by Laura Donnelly (The Ferryman, The Nevers, Outlander), Leanne Best (Sweat, Ripper Street, Line of Duty), Ophelia Lovibond (Minx, W1A, The Effect) and Helena Wilson (Vogue World, Jack Absolute Flies Again, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern) as the Webb family.

Blackpool, 1976. The driest summer in 200 years. The beaches are packed. The hotels are heaving. In the sweltering backstreets, far from the choc ices and donkey rides, the Webb Sisters are returning to their mother’s run-down guest house, as she lies dying upstairs.  

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Review Roundup: Jez Butterworth's THE HILLS OF CALIFORNIA Houman Barekat, New York Times: The denouement, when it comes, provides only a strange and messy sort of closure. There is no through-line here, no moral lesson as such; just the chaotic, meaningless interplay of life force, personalities and contingency. Sometimes, that’s plenty.

Review Roundup: Jez Butterworth's THE HILLS OF CALIFORNIA Aliya Al-Hassan, BroadwayWorld: For most theatre-goers, Jez Butterworth’s work will always live in the shadow of Jerusalem. The Hills of California is no exception, which is a shame as it is close to greatness. It is thought-provoking, heartbreaking and multi-layered, but it could be exceptional.

Review Roundup: Jez Butterworth's THE HILLS OF CALIFORNIA Arifa Akbar, The Guardian : There are lovely bits nonetheless including effervescent verbal riffs and snatches of song, although sentimentality and nostalgia soften the edges. Butterworth is reaching for the epic and there is a characteristic daring in that ambition but Rob Howell’s gorgeous set, dominated by a beautiful staircase, has heights and depths that the play itself does not reach.

Review Roundup: Jez Butterworth's THE HILLS OF CALIFORNIA Dominic Cavendish, Telegraph: Though it’s a commendably female-dominated evening (Ruby and Gloria’s husbands are derisory, ancillary figures), a shaming light is shone on predatory and presumptuous male behaviour in both eras. There may be some debate about the MeToo aspect of the storyline, which broaches female complicity in abuse; it’s a bold move for a man to tackle this subject. Of more pressing, prosaic concern for me was that the evening, running to almost three hours, just needs a trim and a less languid pace.

Review Roundup: Jez Butterworth's THE HILLS OF CALIFORNIA Alice Saville, The Independent: Director Sam Mendes’s production brings out all the gentle humour in Butterworth’s play: some of the 1950s scenes feel like lost outtakes from a mid-century sitcom, as Veronica effortfully clings to a hotelier’s respectability in the face of bottom-pinching, pun-peddling rogues like Mr Halliwell (Shaun Dooley). The saucy jokes sail above the heads of most of her children but not older, worldlier Joan (Lara McDonnell), who internalises her mother’s sense that her body is just another tool to be used on the path to stardom.

Review Roundup: Jez Butterworth's THE HILLS OF CALIFORNIA Nick Curtis, The Standard: A rivetingly assertive central performance from Laura Donnelly sets the tone for a strong ensemble cast and the play more than earns its three-hour running time, at least until the garbled ending. Mendes told me last year Butterworth originally handed him “half a play”. It’s now nine-tenths of a superb one.

Review Roundup: Jez Butterworth's THE HILLS OF CALIFORNIA Sarah Crompton, WhatsOnStage: Line by line, scene by scene, The Hills of California holds the attention. It’s possibly only because of the exalted standards expected of Butterworth that somehow it remains an interesting evening rather than a revelatory one.

Review Roundup: Jez Butterworth's THE HILLS OF CALIFORNIA Andrzej Lukowski, TimeOut: The performances are uniformly tremendous, notably Lovibond’s quicksilver Ruby and Best’s pained, angry Gloria. There is first-rate accent work: enormous respect to dialect coach Danièle Lydon for thoroughly indoctrinating her largely non-Lancastrian cast. And there’s stunning work from designer Rob Howell: the main set is simply the living room of the guesthouse, but there is something profoundly haunting about the towering, almost Escher-like set of stairs that erupts from it, a conduit from the humdrum downstairs to the unseen realm of death that hovers in the wings.

Review Roundup: Jez Butterworth's THE HILLS OF CALIFORNIA Clive Davis, The Times: What a frustrating evening. Jez Butterworth’s eagerly awaited new drama comes tantalisingly close to sweeping us off our feet: Laura Donnelly’s hypnotic central performance as Veronica, matriarch of a Blackpool guesthouse, will certainly linger in the memory. Yet in the end, the director Sam Mendes hasn’t been able to impose enough discipline on Butterworth’s penchant for baggy, poetic speeches.

Review Roundup: Jez Butterworth's THE HILLS OF CALIFORNIA Sam Marlowe, The Stage: Like Beth Steel’s terrific Till the Stars Come Down, which has just opened at London’s National Theatre, Butterworth’s piece is an elegiac, female-led family drama. Set in Blackpool during the 1976 heatwave, it’s beautifully layered. Days, nights and decades ebb and flow like the waves licking the gaudy Pleasure Beach, as the Webb sisters revisit the starry-eyed showbiz might-have-beens of their childhood – aspirations nurtured by their ambitious mother, who is now dying. In a pitch-perfect production from Sam Mendes, it is devastatingly moving, bitterly funny, tender, cruel and wise: a piercing reminder that all the paths we choose lead ultimately in only one direction – and time, like life, is short.

Review Roundup: Jez Butterworth's THE HILLS OF CALIFORNIA Olivia Garrett, RadioTimes: Are there moments when the runtime is felt? Yes. But in the end, this doesn’t matter one bit, as the blend of levity, heartbreak and sisterly bonds is enough to keep you sucked in. Overall, the Hills of California is a strong and deftly handled exploration of death and bereavement with the potential to resonate with anyone.

Review Roundup: Jez Butterworth's THE HILLS OF CALIFORNIA Olivia Rook, London Theatre: One of the most ingenious parts of Butterworth’s scripting is his ability to say more in the silences – and in what the characters fail to say – than in their actual conversations. There is a brief pause in the second act, which cleverly allows the audience a chance to digest what they have seen only moments before. A huge revelation explains why the Webb family has become so fractured, and the pregnant silence that follows is chilling.

Review Roundup: Jez Butterworth's THE HILLS OF CALIFORNIA George Simpson, Express: It’s a long play at approximately three hours, with only a pause between Acts 2 and 3. Yet the time flies as it’s so engrossing, not just because of the glorious dialogue but also some of the best performances across a whole West End cast we’ve seen in recent years. The standout by a mile is Laura Donnelly who embodies the daughters’ strict mother in the 1950s flashbacks, before just as convincingly playing a very different character later on.

Review Roundup: Jez Butterworth's THE HILLS OF CALIFORNIA Fiona Mountford, iNews: Butterworth’s writing is resonant but proceeds at far too languid a pace. Mendes would have done well to have trimmed the three-hour running time, especially given that much is withheld for too long, until a fiery tumble of revelations in the final half hour.

Review Roundup: Jez Butterworth's THE HILLS OF CALIFORNIA
Average Rating: 80.0%


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